Military Wedding Planning Guide

As a military spouse and event planner, I’d have to say a military wedding is one of my favorite things.  It’s like a great cake with so many layers.  You have the personality of the couple, military history and tradition, the typical wedding “to dos” and the big “P”, protocol.  Planning and designing a military wedding is extremely rewarding and is truly an honor to do.  Here is a guide to planning the perfect military wedding.


There are some basic steps to planning a wedding, which should especially be followed with a military wedding.  These include booking a venue, consider pre-marital counseling and wedding insurance.  Although these seem like items that can be glossed over as no brainers, there are additional considerations to evaluate with a military wedding.

Finding the right wedding venue may be challenging.  The dynamics of this I’ll go over in another blog, but the big question for this discussion is if you plan to have events on a military installation or not.  Booking on an installation comes with some perks of waived or reduced costs and the added benefit of the heritage of the facilities.  For ceremonies consider the chapels and even Academy Chapels like the Military Academy Chapel, Naval Academy Chapel or the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel.  These facilities can be very popular so booking early would be in the couple’s best interest.  Installation Clubs or Museums can make a beautiful backdrop for a reception with most that cater, which is one less item on the list.  The challenge with wedding events on the installation is access.  Military members will have the proper credentials and identification for access, however civilian guest will need to get temporary access to enjoy the festivities.  This can be accomplished by working with that installations security or entry control personnel.  Typical information needed are the names, numbers and identification number (license or last four of social security number) for each guest.  Build in processing times to get guests approved for access.

Pre-marital counseling is another great example of the resources available to the military couple.  They can decide if they’d like to meet with a chaplain or civilian clergy member for this.  Some states offer discounts to marriage licenses when counseling is accomplished, which is why it’s worth looking into.  Also, this is a great way to discuss what can be expected when marrying into the military.  Civilian to military or military to military, the challenges are unique and should be consider before walking down the aisle.  The strength of our armed forces comes from the strength of our military families, which is why pre-marital counseling is so important.

I cannot say enough about insurance, but in short I’ll quote Nike, “Just do it!”.  Insurance for any wedding is great to have as it can protect against natural disasters, business closures and other unforeseen things.  Most of all it can protect military couples as they are subject to an ever changing operational schedule and deployments may speed up or prolong a timeline.  The key is to be clear on what type of coverage you have for your wedding as well as understanding the contractual agreements you have with your venue and vendors.


Now to the fun stuff!  Our military members sacrifice so much for our country and deserve to enjoy the celebration of love on their wedding day.  They have the unique opportunity to pull in elements of their service branch and military heritage, which makes it like none other.  Here are some fun things to remember when planning your military wedding:   

1.       There is no official protocol for military weddings.  What does this mean?  Simply that you can customize the level of military traditions you’d like to add to your ceremony and reception.  Go all out or add a small touch to honor the service of the bride and/or groom.  There is no wrong way to do this.  Care, however, should be taken in what you do decide to execute as there are procedures and standards that should be maintained with each tradition. 


2.       We love a man or woman in uniform.  It’s true!  Either or both members in the couple can wear uniform on their special day.  Even bridesmaids and groomsmen can join in and wear their uniforms too.  The big takeaway would be to wear the same uniform equivalent for dress uniform (Ex: Blues) or formal uniform (Ex: Mess Dress).  Also, gentleman would not wear a boutonniere with their uniform as it would interfere with metals, badges or insignia. 


3.       Saber anyone?  Most military weddings are identified by the sword or saber arch.  Usually this is made up of six to eight service members in uniform, who make an arch with the sabers for the bride and groom to walk under after the ceremony.  Usually this is done indoors, however Air Force and Army saber arches may be done outside.  Don’t put the sword away so soon!  Sabers may also be used when cutting the wedding cake.


4.       Don’t forget the music!  Another great way to weave in some military heritage is by playing the member(s) branch’s song.  This theme song is known by its members and create a great moment for all attending to sing along as they celebrate.  Keep the party going with popular songs that nod to the military, its heritage or the career(s) of the couple.  Getting creative with music is an easy way to carry on the theme of the evening.


With some planning you can pull off a great military wedding to remember.  If this all seems a little overwhelming there are great resources you can use to assist.  Reach out to the protocol office or installation chaplain.  They can provide insight on how to properly address and accommodate service member on a program, invitation or seating chart as well as protocol during a ceremony.  You can also reference the protocol instruction, which is the written standard for all things protocol.  Finally, you can seek out a planner who can assist you with your planning.  Overall, you can plan an amazing celebration when you keep in mind all the layers that go into a military wedding and the best part is you can have your cake and eat it too!